“’Don't take the subway, baby, let's just walk,’ we'd say, 'til our longing turns to day / Remember when Alphabet City was a wilderness to you and me, before Rudy had his way,” musician Amy Ray sings with sweet longing for another time in her song “Subway," off of her 10th solo album, If It All Goes South, released last fall.
Now The Advocate has the exclusive premiere of Ray’s video for the nostalgic song that pays tribute to the late Rita Houston, a queer DJ who amplified a wide variety of musicians, including the Indigo Girls (Ray and Emily Saliers), when their career was kicking into high gear in the late 1980s.
“I wrote this song thinking about how much I miss New York, but also, Rita had just passed away,” Ray recently said in an interview with the Advocate Channel about the album that leans into roots and Americana music.
“The new music video for ‘Subway’ pays homage to the groundbreaking radio DJ, Rita Houston (a New York City legend who passed away from cancer in 2020),” Ray writes about the video. “I met Rita in the ’90s. She was so dynamic and true to herself at a time when homophobia was well-established in the music industry. Rita rooted for artists in the queer community and ended up driving a lot of people’s careers.”
In “Subway,” from director Scott Lansing, a young Ray, clad in a black leather jacket and boots, explores the streets of the city. The images are juxtaposed with Ray now, nearly 35 years later, still at home in and mesmerized by New York City. The video homage begins with a radio interview of Houston and features snapshots of Houston as well as of Ray throughout the years.
“In the video, Atlanta Director, Scott Lansing (Flint: The Poisoning of an American City (2019), Electric Jesus (2020)), takes us into a dreamscape with the ‘current Amy’ walking through NYC, contemplating her own journey and its inspirations, and the ‘young Amy’ moving through her paces, growing up into her life as a musician,” Ray shares in her notes. “We are brought to the fore with the rebellion and strength of the protests that occurred in the summer of 2020, and the message that independent voices can help drive social justice movements. ‘Turn on your radio!’”
Regarding the various inspirations for the song that features vocals from Brandi Carlile, Ray told the Advocate Channel, “I was thinking about [Houston]. I was thinking about the first time I went to New York City, the summer of my first year of high school. I realized I was gay, and I go to the city, and I realized, Oh, my God, I’m so free!”
“After that, I would go back with Emily. We played CBGBs, we played the Knitting Factory and all these places. It just felt like a whole other country in some ways, for us, from the South,” she added.
An aural and visual ode to memory, “Subway” evokes a time of wonder and possibility for queer people in the big city, especially with the lyric, “Holding hands with girls down the streets and avenues,” which Lansing illustrates in the video with Sarah Jane Von Hagen as the young Ray and Iris Rubin as her girlfriend.
“I was sitting at home during the pandemic and missing NYC, thinking about how liberated I always felt there as a young queer person just starting to get comfortable with myself,” Ray writes of the song’s inspiration.
“And I was thinking about what I would say to Rita if I wrote her a letter — sort of a letter from all the young queer songwriters,” she adds.“I still treasure the unfettered joy of the nights I would walk the city streets to and from shows, or just walk for the feel of it, not wanting to miss a beat, and taking in all the action. Rita embodied that action and that joy.”
Watch the premiere of “Subway” below.
Subway -Official Music Videowww.youtube.com
Director / DP / Edit - Scott Lansing; Junior Edit / Grip - Zachary Bromberg; Production Manager - Jennifer Lansing
Production Assistant - Abigail Donkor, New York Locations Scout & Driver - Ryan Selvy; Atlanta Locations - Scott Lansing
Wardrobe - Jill Grinstead Von Hagen; Drama Mama - Rebecca Rubin; Still Photography / Supplemental video footage - Amy Ray
Props - Abigail Donker; Compositing - Sabotage Film Group; Studio Green Screen - Sabotage Film Group
It’s been a fruitful artistic year for Ray solo and with Saliers. If It All Goes South has hit the top 10 on the Americana album chart, the Indigo Girls’ documentary It’s Only Life After All was a smash at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and in addition to upcoming tour dates, the Amy Ray Band is set to play the Grand Ole Opry in May.
The Indigo Girls will also be featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts on February 7.
Watch Ray’s full interview with the Advocate Channel below.